Since the advent of the modern video game, there has been (too much) debate over how they affect the minds of those who play. We’re all aware of this. Let’s not get too into the simulated grotesque acts of violence and their alleged real-world ramifications here. Instead, let’s talk about a motif that’s been around for as long as the humble platformer genre: the striking, touching, and depressing of bulbous buttons, items, and bodily appendages found therein.
The platformer game requires the player to guide their avatar through a (traditionally) linear stage while (traditionally) leaping between platforms, utilizing environmental artifacts, and traversing exotic terrain. The enemies often serve as minor obstacles—secondary platforms which aren’t always necessary to defeat, but which frequently serve as a means to reach some alternative goal: a hidden item, an extra life, or a tally toward defeating a requisite number of enemies.
I’ve found it interesting that these enemies appear so bulbous and engorged—so plainly designed to be struck/ stepped on/ deflated.
Aside from you, Piranha Plant. You fickle shrew.
It’s brilliant, the way developers were able to so aptly guide the players to equate the action of striking a coin block with that of leaping over a gap or jumping onto a Goomba’s head/ Koopa’s shell. How rewarding it was to discover the Goombas’ weakness for the first time. How satisfying it was to watch him crumple beneath Mario’s boots like a spent can of soda, or to kick a Koopa, recoiled in his shell, into a bottomless pit.
This conditioning—this established parallel between interacting with plump and swollen elements and progressing—was so effective that Nintendo relied on abandoning the mechanic in order to make certain interactions more puzzling and difficult.
Jump on? Bad idea.
Jump on? Out of the question.
I grew up playing these games. I grew up flinging my hedgehog body against Eggman’s diabolical egg-shaped robots and scraping the fungal residue of entire Goomba populations from the undersides of my feet. I grew up POW Block stomping, robot rolling, Super-Sonic transforming (ugh), and barrel hopping.
Interacting with weirdly misshapen, oddly inflated, and unusually bulbous items/ buttons/ appendages was, as is the norm nowadays, part of my early formative stage. If you see me on the street, unable to avert my gaze from your spherical body, or if we’re getting intimate and I can’t stop myself from booping and booping your generous nose, it’s not because I find your appearance laughable—it’s because you remind me of a time in my childhood when I was rewarded—in coins, rings, extra lives, or self-imposed extra challenge—for these behaviors. Don’t be offended. It’s endearing. You remind me of a time more fun, more whimsical.